Booked into Gold Standard on the Indian Pacific train meant that we had a cabin with two berths and a tiny ‘en suite’ complete with toilet and shower; luxurious compared with Red Standard who had to make do with ‘normal’ seating. This was to be our home for two days.
At 11.55 the train pulled smoothly out of Perth East railway station on its three day run to Sydney. We were only going to Adelaide, a mere 1,327 miles, but would be traversing the Nullarbor Plain, a vast featureless desert across Western Australia and into South Australia.
Leaving the suburbs of Perth we passed through seemingly endless acres of wheat, barley and oat fields. Pockets of eucalyptus trees showing their stark white, skeletal trunks and branches dotted the landscape. Then into scrubland, where brown grass and spinifex mottled the dark red sand, interspersed with salty looking lakes. At one point we spotted two emus with perhaps eight chicks running away from the train.
The train stopped at Kalgoorlie where a night tour had been organised and we looked down into the deepest goldmine in the world. Huge digging machines appeared minute as they worked in the deep pit. Kalgoorlie, the tour guide/coach driver told us, had so many tunnels underneath the town that when the gold runs out they will be opened for tourists. Some of the tunnels, he said, were big enough to drive a bus through.
In the morning we awoke to the smooth running of the train across the Nullarbor on the longest stretch of straight railway in the world, precisely 477.14 km (about 298miles).
There was not a tree in sight, hence the name (meaning treeless) and the land was covered in green spinifex grass with occasional clumps of yellow flowers alongside the railway. We had expected to see featureless red desert with brown looking plants but rain in the previous few months had made all the difference to the vegetation. The land was so flat and the horizon so straight, it was almost like being at sea.
Occasionally, the train stopped so that enormous freight trains, up to 1,800 metres long, could pass unhindered on the spur lines.
Then we stopped at Cook, where the east-going and west-going lines had met during the building of this mammoth railway line in 1917.
Cook is now a ghost town with four people living there, although there are some houses for the train drivers to rest before setting off on the long journey back to civilisation. Otherwise there was a souvenir shop cum café, manned by two of the four residents; two shacks which had been the gaol houses; a dilapidated school complete with murals of animals on the walls; and a lot of dust, and millions of flies! And it was very hot.
The train whistle sounded and we re-boarded for the last leg of the journey to the lush greenness surrounding Adelaide.
by Terry Took © 2012
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.